Opponents of Stand Your Ground Rally in Broward for Changes to Law

State Sen. Chris Smith is leading an effort to have the legislature at least discuss the issue

Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law has been controversial since it was signed into law by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005.

The law eliminates the requirement to retreat, if possible, when a person is threatened. Its opponents say the law has created a Wild West mentality in Florida, where, they say, a person can kill another person and then simply claim that he or she felt threatened as a way to avoid prosecution.

"This bill actually encourages people to shoot their way out of situations, and that's not how we live in a civilized society," said State Sen. Chris Smith, Democrat of Fort Lauderdale, at a rally Thursday inside the Broward County Governmental Center.

Surrounded by high school students, lawmakers, and the state attorney of Broward County, Smith is leading an effort to have the legislature at least discuss the issue, which it refused to do this year.

"One of the changes we asked for in the law: if you're the aggressor, in the bill, under Stand Your Ground, you shouldn't avail yourself of its immunity," Smith said.

Even though "Stand Your Ground" was not explicitly used in the George Zimmerman trial, Smith said wording from the law was included in the jury instructions. The outcome of that trial, Smith said, sparked this effort, which attracted the support of State Attorney Mike Satz, who rarely speaks in front of television cameras.

"I don't think it's a prosecutors issue, I think it's a humanity issue that life is precious," Satz said.

Echoing the criticism that many in law enforcement have of the law, the state attorney says "Stand Your Ground" has created havoc in the criminal justice system, with police not sure whether to make arrests and prosecutors unsure whether to file charges in some cases.

"Before you take a life, move away," Satz said, his voice rising. "If that's what you're thinking, stand my ground, or are you thinking I don't want to take someone's life or hurt them? Now if it's gonna endanger you, yeah, but you could do that prior to Stand Your Ground."

Gov. Rick Scott also discussed the law on Thursday.

"Right after that happened, I put together a task force of 19 individuals, bipartisan, they traveled the state, they listened to ordinary citizens, they listened to experts, and they concluded that we didn't need to make a change in the law, and I agree with their conclusion,” Scott said.

Opponents of the law face an uphill climb to get the legislature to hear Smith's bill, which would make changes to "Stand Your Ground" but not repeal it entirely. As ammunition, they will be using statistics from a study done by the Tampa Bay Times, which analyzed more than a hundred cases in which the law was used. Of the many findings that raise eyebrows in the analysis, this one may be especially effective for their argument: one-third of successful uses of "Stand Your Ground," in which charges were either dropped or never filed, involved defendants who either started the fight, pursued the other person before killing that person, or used a gun against a person who was unarmed.

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